Joe Queenan  

Day One
Monday, Oct. 14, 1996
       This morning I had an experience that shook me to the very core of my being: I am losing faith in the rednecks of America. More specifically, I am losing faith in the rednecks of suburban Philadelphia, where I have just spent the weekend. When I was growing up in Philadelphia back in the 1960s, you could always count on the rednecks to be fat, ugly, and badly groomed. Yes, they were also racists and cryptofascists, but their most salient features were their hideous appearances: the bad hair, the bad skin, the statutory paunch. You never, ever saw a thin, neatly dressed, well-groomed redneck in the Greater Philadelphia area. You certainly never saw a redneck who spent much time worrying about his appearance. It simply wasn’t done.
       But as I was waiting to be served breakfast in a diner on the edge of Prospect Park, Pa., this morning, I suddenly realized how much rednecks had changed in the past few years. There, standing at the checkout counter, was a young, thinnish, almost dainty redneck sporting a mint-new Dallas Cowboys baseball cap and jacket, an earring dangling from his right earlobe, and a series of plangent, reptilian, pseudo-mystical tattoos snaking up his forearms. Thus, in a single human being, nature had spawned a lethal hybrid of The Dukes of Hazard and Mortal Kombat.
       Everything that could possibly be wrong with this picture was wrong. In the good old days, when Delaware Valley rednecks all wore grimy Philadelphia Eagles jackets, you could expect a battalion of frothing greasers to pounce on odious front-runners foolish enough to wear the blue and white of the hated Cowboys, sometimes disemboweling them and their families and feeding the remains to famished jackals. But this morning, none of the other rednecks in the diner made a move toward this nicely appointed slacker cracker. None of them even noticed him. They just went about their business, eating Himalayas of scrapple.
       There were other things that I found unnerving about this experience. Most particularly, I hated the awkward fusion of the iconoclastic (garish earrings on a townie; exotic, nonmilitary tattoos) and the mainstream (the baseball cap, the NFL Starter jacket, the telltale signs of recent bathing). It seemed to me that if you want to be hip, you should go ahead and be hip, and if you want to be old-fashioned, you should go ahead and be old-fashioned, but you shouldn’t ever try both. Otherwise, you’d end up like Neil Diamond.
       The stylistic discord in this young man’s get-up suggested to me that the traditional American redneck community was now in a state of massive upheaval, with widespread confusion about values, tactics, and haberdashery. Seeing a youthful, Philadelphia-based redneck decked out in tattoos, earrings, and Dallas Cowboys regalia was tantamount to seeing RuPaul dressed like Louis Rukeyser. There was a serious discord here. I felt an immense sense of loss.


       Last night, I decided to go on a diet and lose 20 pounds. I resolved to cut out all sweets, jog every day, and only eat when I was hungry. Then my host (my best and oldest friend Chris) offered me a pile of eggs and scrapple–a Schuykill Smorgasbord, if you will–and I decided to start my diet tomorrow.
       Shelving my diet for a day naturally reminded me of Bob Dole. Every night, Bob Dole goes to bed and says, “Liddy, tomorrow is the day I start running for the White House.” But the next morning he wakes up late or in a grumpy mood, and he backslides into being the old, boring Bob Dole who can’t seem to get this campaign rolling. Like a binge dieter, he decides to have one last 4,500-calorie icebox purge before he gets serious about the new regime. So he spends another day talking about that idiotic tax cut and school vouchers and balancing the budget and the rest of that hokum.
       Bob Dole’s problem is that he’s going about things the wrong way. Like a yo-yo dieter, he makes up his mind to change everything overnight, then gets frustrated when he realizes that the undertaking is too vast, and ends up punishing himself by exaggerating those personality flaws he most seeks to eliminate. He wants to start a new life every morning as an interesting, thoughtful, daring person. But by 11 a.m., he’s slipped back into being: Republican. Here are my suggestions for breaking this cycle:
       1) Don’t try to change everything at once. You don’t have to say 50 interesting things today. Just try saying one.
       2) Set attainable goals. You’re not going to reverse 72 years of bad habits in a single day, week, month. So try changing one little thing every day. Here’s an example: Stop referring to yourself as “Bob Dole.” Try referring to yourself as “I” or “me” like the other 260 million of us. And stop taking five checks a day from Dwayne Andreas. Cut back to three.
       3) Give yourself an occasional reward. Binge dieters turn eating into hard work by eliminating all fun food. Don’t make the same mistake. If you manage to get through an entire day without mentioning your 15 percent tax cut, reward yourself by calling Hillary a crook. After all, she probably is.
       4) Don’t worry, be happy. Let’s face it Bob: You’re not going to win anyway.